Nationwide Division One, 13/10/01
By Matt Rowson
There was an interview on Radio 5 the other day.
The sort of interview that occasionally gets shoved into a two minute gap
before a news bulletin, allowing Peter Allen to transform from unforgivingly
blunt current affairs journalist to docile, befuddled uncle figure.
The subject, on this occasion, was sandwich making.
The interviewee, a girl employed in said profession, was able to use her
two minutes to convey both the very large number of sandwiches that she
constructed every morning and her consequential failure to appreciate sandwiches
at their full worth.
Imagine this. Excessive exposure rendering one unable
to appreciate a round of Cheddar and Branston on Crusty White, or Tuna
Mayonnaise with Sweetcorn on Granary. It was impossible not to feel a little
pity for her, before the news bulletin was announced with an onthepulsey
sort of jingle and swept her into memory.
It got me thinking. Sandwich making cannot be unique
as a profession in causing its practitioners to lose a little focus, to
be unable to appreciate the fruits or the context of their art. A lodger
of mine who spent her days at work dissecting chicken meat was consequently
never a big fan of KFC. Okay, bad example. Do composers listen to music to
assess end product without thinking about the minutiae of each piece's
construction, I wonder ?
Football is a very good case in point. Alan Green,
animated and entertaining commentator though he is, displays a surprising
lack of understanding with his disparaging "I just don't understand that"
condemnation of the reception that, for example, Paul Ince receives at
And just this week Dave Bassett displayed an astonishing
lack of empathy with the football supporting public, by advocating a merger
between the two Sheffield sides as the only way the steel city is likely
to achieve the Premiership football that it merits. That Wednesday and
United fans took a break from lobbing abuse at each other on each club's
message boards to agree on the idiocy of both comment and concept speaks
volumes. The lack of understanding that characterised Bassett's lumbering
into a particularly fragile seat at Vicarage Road fourteen years ago comes sharply
back into focus.
The Sheffield derby this weekend illustrated in many
ways the plight of both clubs, and particularly the Owls. Four years ago
Wednesday were an established top-flight side, one of the bunch in mid-table
with an outside chance of Europe every season. Overstretching and some
bad signings saw them tumble limply. The 44% in a relatively extensive
web poll who anticipated at least a play-off place for the Owls this season
seem unduly optimistic (and bear in mind that this proportion will inevitably
be an underestimate of Owls' opinion given the scope for Blades fans to
cast their votes on passing through). More telling is that the derby game,
always fiercely contested, has adopted the mantle of being more important
than the entire campaign. This was always the most depressing aspect of
many of our more recent derbies with Luton and, like many of these, Sunday's
fixture was a not terribly surprising goalless draw.
That the Sheffield derby was one of only two Division
One ties not to succumb to postponement due to international call-ups this
weekend passes comment on the state of the Wednesday squad which, stripped
by necessity of most of its high earners, comprises much-travelled journeymen
and a number of youngsters pushed through earlier than would have been
The odd exception remains as a memento of more successful
times; Kevin Pressman, for one, has been at Hillsborough since before many
of the first team squad were at nursery school. He won the man-of-the-match
award on Sunday with an inspired performance, not the first such showing
this season. His deputy is Chris Stringer, who briefly challenged for the
starting spot last year.
At right-back on Sunday was the versatile and highly-rated
Leigh Bromby; however Ian Hendon's anticipated return from an ankle injury
could see Bromby moved to the centre of defence. His likely partner would
be Danny Maddix, who seems to be the replacement old head at the back for
Des Walker, who departed in the summer. Ashley Westwood has been
partnering Maddix; Westwood has not been one of the most popular members
of the playing staff either here or at Bradford. Left back will probably
be young Irishman Derek Geary in the absence of Andy Hinchcliffe, out until
the end of the year after an Achilles operation.
Cover in the back line is provided by the versatile
Steve Haslam, and former Liverpool chopper Steve Harkness.
In midfield, an experienced central pairing will,
it is hoped, strengthen the spine of the team. Carlton Palmer needs
no introduction having briefly threatened to beef up our own midfield last
season before Coventry recalled but didn't play him. New club captain
is another ex-Coventry man, Norwegian Trond Egil Soltvedt.
On the right hand side, Matt Hamshaw is a winger
with pace who supported Wednesday as a boy. Irishman Alan Quinn on
the left is one of the most promising players in the side. Other
options include the enormous Tony Crane who, like Quinn, scored in this
fixture last season, former Luton man Paul McLaren and Aaron Lescott, whose
brother is making a bigger impression at Wolves. A triumvirate of
injury-prone Scottish midfielders also appears to be approaching the first
team squad; Simon Donnelly, Phil O'Donnell and Philip Scott have made fourteen
starts between them since their arrival two years ago.
Up front, injuries have hit Wednesday hard.
The unpredictable Gerald Sibon, so impressive at Hillsborough last season,
is out with a knee problem and Efan Ekoku, now a permanent recruit from
Grasshoppers, has knee ligament damage. The acrobatic long-haired
Italian Michele di Piedi and ex-Celt and supposed one-time Watford target
Tommy Johnson both started on Sunday but both picked up knee knocks which
made them doubtful for the Palace cup-tie in midweek.
This leaves Owen Morrison, an Ulsterman who often
plays wide and missed the derby due to international duty, and Pablo Bonvin,
a quick Argentinean on a year's loan.
With Wednesday at something of a low ebb, we won't
have many better chances to kick off another run of home league form.
With only a single win all season, the Owls will probably be grateful for
a point, before another grim season is confirmed and the lack of appreciation
of football in Sheffield stretches beyond their rivals' ex-manager.